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Joni and Friends

Sunday morning Sandi, John, Ethan and myself left for the Pocono Mountains in NE Pennsylvania. The event was the Joni and Friends Family Camp held at Spruce Lake. We went as campers, having a handicapped son, joining the other 40+ families with special needs. And I was also there as the camp pastor. So we arrived a day early to join in the staff training. From the start I learned about a whole new world, the world of the physically disabled. Part of the leadership team was Jerry and Joan Burton.

Jerry and Joan Burton

One of the training sessions focused on how a handicapped individual impacts their parents and siblings. And these types of physical challenges are not short term. They will not go away, and you won’t outgrow them. They are for a lifetime. So each of the families attending the camp have had their lives changed significantly. That is why the banners on each side of the stage read “Strengthening and Encouraging Families Affected by Disability.” Besides the banners, observe my shy son performing at talent night with Mike and Derrick! They were awesome!

“What’s A Guy Got to Do to Get a Girl in This Town”

For many, this is the highlight of their year. Coming to a place where you do not stand out in a crowd, but where you are normal. Each of the �special� individuals has a Short Term Missionary (STM) assigned to them. They take them to classes, meals, and activities, and are their buddy for the week. Johnny had a neat 17 year old young man, as his STM. This gives the Moms and Dads a much needed respite from the daily grind of life!

Johnny and Ryan

The STMs raise their own support to come and volunteer. About half were adults taking vacation time, while the other half were young people in their late teens and early twenties, serving during their summer breaks from college and high school.
The camp represented a wide range of church affiliations, but we were all united by a “disability.” I spoke to the Short Term Missionaries (STMs) at 7:30 each day for a short devotion, and then addressed the adults at 9:45 as part of a longer worship service. There were also Men’s ministries for the Dads, which I participated in for 2 days.
At the beginning of the week I saw the wheel chairs and the handicaps. But after a few days I saw the people not the disability. Allow me introduce to you a few of my new friends.
David has cerebral palsy and sits in a wheelchair and speaks clearly. 7 years ago he taught himself sign language with the aid of video instruction. This so he could help those who were deaf.
Brandon was in a wheelchair race. Just before the finish line he “cut off” one of the other participants (who was a friend of his) coming up on his left side, and then with a twisted grin straightened out his chariot and headed for the finish line. I had a great position to view the whole affair. It was beautiful. That’s what any “guy” in a race would do!!

In other words people with disabilities are just like you and me, but bound up in a body that doesn’t operate “normally.” But they are in there nonetheless. In the picture Brandon is in the white shirt with the goatee. David has the blue T-Shirt with “Shine” on the front.

Mike also has CP (cerebral palsy) and cannot speak clearly but is able to “motor” around camp on his own. He has an infectious smile, and a wonderful sense of humor. He came to camp this summer as an STM. The last morning he wanted to climb the mountain and did so, with able bodied young men pushing and guiding him, one on each side, up the steep trail. Notice the writing on the T-Shirt.

Mike and I

If the T-Shirt is hard to read, it says, “Not being able to speak is not the same thing as not having anything to say”.

Getting to know parents of other young men with Downs Syndrome was helpful and encouraging. And then hearing the stories of families and the struggles they face daily was an inspiration. These Moms and Dads are common people who don’t think of themselves as heroes, but who keep doing what needs to be done.

At the Banquet

But their example of unselfish devotion and putting the needs of their family above their own is uncommon. The whole camp experience where everyone seemed to be looking for ways to care for and bless someone else, was a small picture of heaven, where each lives for the other and all for Christ.
Although it rained for the first 2-3 days (upwards of 8 inches) and we wondered if we would ever be dry, by the time I arrived home, I was missing camp.
As to the hairdo, it was part of an effort to raise money for sports equipment. By shaving the camp pastor’s head, another 100.00 was raised!!

the hundred dollar haircut
Ethan also participated in the ministry side of the camp by having meetings, helping with the young adults, and working with siblings. He jumped right in and was a wonderful asset to the camp.